An inside look at a career as an orthoptist

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Orthoptists help to diagnose and treat a range of eye problems in individuals of all ages. They usually work as part of a team of eye specialists, examining conditions affecting vision, connected nerves, eye muscles and eye movement.

Job Description

Orthoptists carry out tests to diagnose eye problems such as.

  • Glaucoma
  • Squinting
  • Lazy eye
  • Cataract
  • Retinal disease
  • Reduced vision
  • Double vision
  • Neurological disorders
  • Vision disorders due to disease or injury

Orthoptists also carry out vision tests on children in schools and community centres.

  • Treatments that these professionals typically recommend include:
  • Doing regular eye exercises
  • Contact lenses for children
  • Aids to overcome low vision
  • Recommendation for surgery
  • Using an eye patch
  • Referral to another specialist when investigations indicate the presence of another condition, such as a brain tumour

As an orthoptist, you are likely to work as part of a team alongside other healthcare professionals, including vision scientists, optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Most patients are referred from the eye casualty and neurology departments of hospitals, and through referrals from GPs and health visitors.

Optometrists work in a variety of settings including outpatient clinics, hospital wards and the examination room in a hospital ophthalmic department. Other workplace settings could also include community health centres, school clinics, day nurseries and mobile clinics.

Education & Training

To pursue a career in this specialty you will need to obtain a degree in orthoptics from a programme approved by the Health and Care Professions Council. Registering with the HCPC is a mandatory requirement before you can begin working as an orthoptist in the UK.

There are two universities in the UK that run the approved degree programme –

  • The University of Liverpool
  • The University of Sheffield

The degree courses are 3 years, full-time and the entry requirements include 5 GCSEs (A-C) in English, maths and two science subjects and 3 A levels (at Grade B), one of which should be biology.

Caitlin on placement in obstetrics and gynaecology As part of the curriculum you will study subjects such as Optics (the behaviour of light), Binocular vision (how the eyes work together) and Child health and paediatrics.

Medical ethics and the organisation and structure of the NHS also form part of the curriculum in the orthoptic programme.

As an orthoptic student you can join the British and Irish Orthoptic Society (BIOS), which will give you access to a range of resources and networking opportunities. BIOS will also give you further advice and access to professional development opportunities once you are qualified.

As a qualified orthoptist, you could continue your studies and work towards a qualification such as an MSc, MPhil or PhD, which may help with career progression.

Essential Skills, Qualities & Interests For This Field

  • To be an orthoptist you must have the following skills and interests:
  • Accurate observation skills
  • The ability to relate well to people of all ages and backgrounds
  • A keen interest and ability in science (biology in particular)
  • Excellent manual skills and a steady hand
  • The ability to use specialised testing equipment and understand the results
  • Good team working skills as well as the ability to work alone
  • Patience and empathy
  • A commitment to on-going study

Job Opportunities & Income Potential

Most optometrists work within the NHS, in specialised eye hospitals, the eye care department of general hospitals or in a community health centre. Opportunities are also available in private hospitals and clinics, the armed forces, special schools, and charities. Newly qualified orthoptists start at an average salary of £21,388 a year in the NHS with the possibility of earning about £25,784 to £30,765 a year as an advanced or specialised practitioner.

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